Pubdate: Fri, 08 Jun 2001
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001 The Ottawa Citizen
Author: Peter Childs


The May 30 Point of View article by Brian Gilligan, "Ottawa's needle 
exchange is the best choice for public health," seems to imply that the 
current needle program is perfect and that anyone who questions it is not 
only ignorant but lacks compassion. As an active resident, like Mr. 
Gilligan, of the Somerset West community, I can say that the reality 
doesn't bear this out.

We all agree that as a society we should provide aid to addicts and support 
them when they want need rehabilitation. What critics of the program 
question is:

* Does giving out 20 needles without getting one back result in some of 
those needles being discarded in schools and parks?

* Should citizens expect to find needles, and when they do, should they get 
the same counselling and support addicts do?

* If we give out needles to prevent re-use, why are we not dispensing the 
one-time-use needles available?

What we don't get is straight answers.

Spokespeople for the program like to talk about the 250-per-cent return 
rate for needles for one area -- that in one neighbourhood, addicts return 
2.5 times as many needles as they received from the SITE van. What they 
don't say is those 700 returned needles are from all sources, including 
diabetics and other benign users, and represent only 1.6 per cent of the 
total 17,289 needles given out by the SITE van in that same period. Why 
aren't we told the collection rate for the program as whole?

Supporters says that in the other areas, where 98.4 per cent of the needles 
are given out, lack of community support is the cause of the poor return 
rate because the effectiveness of the SITE van is hindered. Most people 
would think there must be something wrong with the program's delivery. 
Supporters blame the community, and then wonder why it doesn't embrace the 

Questions about the SITE program are public policy questions, not just 
public health questions. At about $250,000 a year to run the van alone 
(exact figures have never been disclosed) it's valid to question whether 
there are more cost-effective and less disruptive means to deliver this 
service, such as using health centres and doctors offices.

The supporters don't want the program put under scrutiny, and I wonder why. 
I also wonder when Ottawa council, which pays for and directs the program, 
will demand straight answers about the program's policies, procedures and cost.

I would feel better if there were some transparency and accountability -- 
not just the shrill cry that I am not compassionate because I have 
questions and want some answers.

Peter Childs,

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